Lifestyle a health risk

By DAVID MOASE

MELANOMA and cervical cancer rates on the North Coast are by far the worst in NSW.

A report compiled by the NSW Chief Health Officer shows residents living between Port Macquarie and the Queensland border at far greater risk of contracting the diseases than those in other areas of the State.

Figures in the report indicate the North Coast is one of the State's most socially disadvantaged areas, a situation that can impact on people's health, and the state of Aboriginal health lags far behind that of the general population.

People living in rural NSW face grim health prospects compared with those living in metropolitan areas.

"The . . . report suggests the health of people in rural and remote areas still lags behind metropolitan residents, yet the general statistics were encouraging," Robin Osborne, community relations and media manager for the North Coast Area Health Service, said.

"Our population is healthier than ever and is living longer, with the number of deaths due to cancer and heart disease being at record lows and immunisation levels continuing to rise."

According to the report, males on the North Coast are by far the most likely in NSW to suffer from melanoma, with 86.6 new cases reported per 100,000 population.

This is far ahead of the statewide average of 56.4 cases.

The overall rate of melanoma in females on the North Coast is 51.9 new cases per 100,000, while across the State the figure is 35.7.

"A major worry, especially in an area featuring outdoor lifestyles, is the drop in the number of secondary students using maximum protection sunscreen (down from 54 per cent to 35 per cent in a decade) or wearing a hat (63 per cent down to 52 per cent)," Mr Osborne said.

"With the prevalence of skin cancers, including lifethreatening melanoma, we really need to address this trend."

The rate of cervical cancer in the North Coast area is 13.6 cases per 100,000 per population, compared to the NSW average of 10.3, although the death rate is lower than the State average.

"Smoking rates on the North Coast remain a major concern," Mr Osborne said.

"It is the single most preventable cause of serious disease but the overall smoking rate in the area is more than 10 per cent above the State average and we will continue to work with the community to address the issue."

While across NSW life expectancy is among the highest in the world, that figure is 20 years less for Aborigines.

An Aboriginal male born now can expect to live as long as a non-Aboriginal male born at the turn of the century, while an Aboriginal female born now can expect to live as long as a non-Aborig- inal female born in the 1920s.



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